Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone today announced the results of the county’s first ever multi-year Tick Surveillance Study that collected and analyzed infection rates of ticks for known pathogens in Suffolk County. The results of the study show that tick-borne pathogen infection rates in all of Suffolk’s 10 towns are within the normal range set forth by New York State. The release of the new data, which was collected by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services over a three-year period, began in 2016 in collaboration with New York State Department of Health and looked at ticks and associated pathogens that cause human disease such as Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis.
Earlier this year, County Executive Bellone launched the SuffolkShare Public Health Partnership under the Suffolk County Shared Services Initiative to provide a platform for local governments to work together to combat ticks and tick-borne illnesses. Currently there are eight villages and two towns, working in conjunction with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services and the Suffolk County Department of Public Works Vector Control to share resources, data and vector control analyses.
“Finding ways to improve and enhance public health requires unprecedented collaboration between local government and the SuffolkSHARE Public Health Partnership is becoming a model for how governments can share services,” said County Executive Steve Bellone. “This information can be used by jurisdictions to develop tick related strategies and by medical providers to evaluate patients for tick-borne diseases that will keep residents healthier and safer.”
Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming said: "I represent Long Island’s South Fork and Shelter Island, communities that experience high incidences of tick-borne disease, so I recognize the importance of a strong partnership between the County and local municipalities. Sharing resources, talents and best practices will serve well all of Suffolk County’s residents in combating the challenging health consequences of tick-borne illnesses. As Chair of the Tick Control Advisory Committee, I look forward to building on this teamwork.”
The study comprised collecting ticks from each of Suffolk County’s 10 townships and analyzing them for pathogens. To ensure comprehensive results, ticks were collected at different times of the year including spring, summer and fall to coincide with the presence of different tick stages and species. The results of the data collected during the first three years of this study have confirmed that tick-borne pathogen infection rates in all of Suffolk’s 10 towns are within the normal range as identified by the New York State and other leading scientific literature.
An infection rate is the percentage of ticks testing positive for a particular pathogen out of the total number of ticks tested from a collection site. For example, an infection rate of 10 percent for a pathogen known as Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria indicates that 10 percent of the ticks tested were positive for that pathogen and the other 90 percent tested negative for the bacteria. Pathogens are typically bacteria, viruses or protozoans, which are capable of causing disease.
Suffolk County specific results for the Tick Surveillance Program can be found here and Statewide results can be found here.
The program is ongoing and tick collection resumed in the spring of 2019. The results of the study reinforce the importance of educating the public and medical practitioners about tick-borne diseases and tick bite prevention.
Commissioner of Health Services Dr. James Tomarken. “Education is of key importance when dealing with public health protection. We encourage doctors to be familiar with case definitions and to consider vector-borne diseases when diagnosing patients. We also our residents to be vigilant and take the necessary steps to avoid vector-borne diseases.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said: “The Town of Southampton has been working in conjunction with the County to collect and analyze data to better understand the risks and develop strategies for the prevention of tick-borne illnesses. By working together, we can help reduce the incidence of these serious illnesses.”
Village of Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard said: “We are always seeking more information and assistance as we work to protect residents from tick-borne illness. This information will be an important resource at our disposal as we continue this mission in the Village of Head of the Harbor.”
Village of Bellport Mayor Raymond Fell, who noted county health officials have recently met with Bellport residents during a Village Board meeting to provide information on tick-bite prevention and tick mitigation, said: “This data, as part of a combined effort with Suffolk County and municipal partners, will allow us to be better informed as we work to address this issue on behalf of our residents. They gave a presentation and our community enjoyed it very much. It was informative.”
Dr. Scott Campbell, Chief of the Suffolk County Health’s Arthropod-Borne Disease Lab said: “We are particularly grateful to our partners at the Regional Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center of Stony Brook Southampton Hospital who have participated in our programs, supplied us with educational materials and hundreds of tick removal kits for our tick-bite-prevention events and provided expert advice and responses to medical questions regarding tick-borne disease.”
Karen C. Wulffraat, Administrative Director of Stony Brook Southampton Hospital’s Regional Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center said: “Over the last four years, working with Entomology Lab Chief, Dr. Scott Campbell, and his staff, has served to enhance our educational mission by helping us to reach even more residents and visitors, furthering our core mission of public education, and the facilitation of access to the diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne diseases.”
The Suffolk County Department of Health Services 2019 Tick Bite Prevention Education Campaign helps educate school-age children and parents about preventive measures they can take to reduce the risk of tick bites. The campaign, targeting children at K-12 schools, camps, summer programs, beaches and parks, was devised under Suffolk County’s Shared Services Initiative and offers the opportunity for residents to learn from experts how to protect themselves from illness caused by tick bites. This year’s campaign was expanded to include more than 20 public forums for residents of all ages at local libraries throughout the county.
To assist agencies and other interested parties with education, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services developed materials that can be used in educational outreach programs. These materials can be found here. Suffolk County’s Tick Bite Prevention Education Campaign also includes the opportunity for an on-site presentation by county health officials. To schedule an on-site presentation, please call (631) 852-5999. Residents and visitors to Suffolk County who have questions about tick removal or tick-borne disease may also call the Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center Hotline at (631) 726-TICK.
The Tick Surveillance Study was recommended by the Suffolk County Tick and Vector-Borne Diseases Task Force in its report released in 2016. The task force consisted of representatives from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services’ Arthropod-Borne Disease Laboratory, SUNY Stony Brook Department of Medicine, Suffolk County Legislature, Shelter Island Deer and Tick Committee, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Suffolk County Cornell Cooperative Extension, Suffolk County Medical Society, Suffolk County Pediatric Society, Suffolk County Psychological Association, Professional Nurses Association of Suffolk County, Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of New York, Empire State Lyme Disease Association, New York State Veterinary Medical Society, and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The Tick Surveillance Study is ongoing and data will be updated periodically.